Monday, November 16, 2009

The Bobcat Bite Burger

I concluded my one-day solo trip to Santa Fe with a stop at Bobcat Bite, just south of the city. Originally a trading post and then a gun shop, Bobcat Bite has been a family owned and operated restaurant since 1953.

Seeing the tables and chairs in this small entryway should have been a hint that all available space was going to be used to serve the crowds who found their way to this country eatery.

I grabbed one of the eight seats at the counter, directly in front of this window (left). With this view, I imagined myself pulling up at the chuck wagon after a long day herding cattle.

"Two green chile cheeseburgers and fries," called the only server to the kitchen. My guess was that this was Bonnie Eckre calling the order to her husband John, co-owners since 2001.

This brought me back to the menu.

"Four green chile cheeseburgers and fries" came the next order--from a table with two locals and their out-of-town visitors. "You know they grind their beef for the burgers every morning," noted one of the locals.

"I'll have the green chile cheeseburger," I said, sounding as though it was a decision arrived at after a thorough study of the menu. (Actually the menu had only nine sandwiches--five kinds of burgers, a grilled chicken, a grilled ham and cheese, a grilled cheese, and a ham and cheese sandwich.)

After placing my order, I glanced around the dining area, noticing five tables that were all occupied. Even though this was mid-afternoon, the "Bite" was full. I had missed the lunch rush, but this only meant that I did not have to stand in line.

I noticed this picture of a bobcat on one wall, an apparent tribute to the bobcats that roamed the 100-acre ranch, looking for scraps from the restaurant when it opened in 1953.

I could get a glimpse of the kitchen from my counter seat and saw plates with the toasted buns waiting for the arrival of the green chili cheeseburgers.

When my order arrived, I took a moment just to admire the burger. The chef--yes, the preparer of this burger deserves this status--did not cover the beautiful burger with the top half of the bun. Instead he proudly displayed the artistic pairing of the burger and the cheese. How he managed to prepare the majestic burger with a robe of cheese that showed every bump and fold in the burger is a mystery. This was clearly no frozen patty with a barely-warm piece of cheese dropped on it and then hidden under a big, fluffy bun.

In a strange combination of reluctance (to cover the burger) and eagerness (to cover it and begin eating), I covered the burger and took a bite.

(Now I am a believer in "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" when it comes to dining. I am not interested in determining how many different ingredients I can taste. I want to savor the combination.)

This first bite was sheer joy. The warmth of the green chile joined the slight crunch of the burger's edge and the juiciness of its interior and the velvet envelop of the cheese to create a taste far superior to the usual burger. The seasoned home fries (cubes of potatoes) were a welcome contrast to french fries and added yet another layer of flavor to the champion burger. (The Port of Call in New Orleans serves baked potatoes with its hamburgers, and I am becoming convinced that these two ways of accompanying the burger provide a tastier complement to the burger.)

This burger was savored. This was probably the slowest I have ever eaten a burger.

Bobcat Bite is the kind of place that you think about ordering the pork chops, the 16 oz. ham steak, the 13 oz. Rib Eye Steak, or the 10 oz. N.Y. Strip Steak the next time you stop in, but by then the memory of this champion burger overpowers the culinary curiosity to sample other items, and the words "I'll have the green chile cheeseburger" just roll off your tongue when asked: "What can I get for you?"

Bobcat Bite opened on Rene Clayton's Bobcat Ranch in 1953. When I left the restaurant, I realized my imagined job on the ranch now included having to fend off bobcats.

Some of the romance of the cowboy life dissipated.

Oh, by the way, Bobcat Bite's burger was voted Best Burger in America by Bon Apetit Magazine.

It's a mighty good burger.

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